Top Aquarium & Fish Articles This Month – May 2014

It’s FINALLY starting to warm up around here as May has arrived, but the great content hasn’t slowed down one bit. Below, are some of the top blogs, aquarium content, and general cool fish stuff we’ve seen over the last month. Please let us know what you think – or shoot us an email at for items you’d like to see next month!

1. Diving in Cuba and Enjoying a Lionfish Barbeque –

There were two really cool things about this article. One, that the author got to actually dive in Cuba – we Americans are not allowed to partake in this, and 2. that it highlights the lionfish expansion epidemic we’ve been talking about for years. The author actually partakes in some tasty Lionfish dinner. The article also references an amazing animated image (shown below) showing the expansion of the Lionfish throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean – courtesy of
Lionfish Expansion from

2. Aquarium 101 – Starting a Siphon – That Fish Blog

Ahh the siphon! We speak to new aquarists ALL THE TIME here – and we’re always recommending water changes as basic aquarium maintenance 101. We are also BIG fans of fish acclimation. So logically, why wouldn’t we write a guide on how to actually get a siphon started? Our fish experts put their heads together for this one, including some cool animated .gifs.

3. Choosing an Aquarium Light Guides – That Fish Place

Aquarium Lighting Charts at That Fish Place - That Pet Place

New Lighting Charts

Each day, we get lots of questions from aquarists of all types and skill levels. These lighting charts are designed to show aquarists precisely which options they have for any freshwater fish tank, freshwater planted tank, reef aquarium, or saltwater fish only. You can match your tank’s dimensions to light fixtures your tank could support; while achieving the output you require. Simple, cut and dry charts to choose a light fixture for your tank.

4. Blennies That Eat Algae – Fish Channel

I love this topic, and frankly, I wish we would’ve written this article. EVERY aquarist is constantly on the lookout for organic ways to take out the ever-present algae buildup. This short write-up gives you a sense of which Blennies are algae gobblers. As if you needed another excuse to add an adorable Blenny..

Let us know what you think – and please send us any articles you think should be included in the monthly run-down.

Aquarium 101: Starting a Siphon for Water Changes and Acclimation

Starting a siphon to move water from one container to another is a basic function in aquarium-keeping. Among other random uses, we use it in water changes, emptying or filling an aquarium, acclimating new livestock, and making filters work correctly. Since it is something that we use so often – especially in a retail environment like That Fish Place, it can be one of those actions that we take for granted and just assume everyone knows how to do but everyone has to be taught before they know, right? So here are some tips and tricks to have you siphoning like a pro in no time.


siphon principle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by user Tomia

How it works

Before we discuss how to do it, it helps to know what is happening. A siphon uses a vacuum inside of the tubing to move liquid in a way the same as using a straw to drink. When you use a straw, you suck on the end to remove the air from the tube. As the air is removed, there is a vacuum inside of the straw and the liquid in the cup moves up to fill the space. If there is a hole or crack in the straw or if your mouth isn’t completely sealed around the end of the straw, it won’t work.

Instead of moving the water up a straw, a siphon uses gravity to move water  from a container at a higher elevation down into a waiting lower-level bucket or other container. When a vacuum like the straw is created in the tubing, the water rushes in to fill it and gravity keeps it going into the lower container until both are even or the siphon is “broken” by allowing air to get into the tube (usually just by removing the higher end from the water). It is creating that vacuum that can be the tricky part for aquarists.




  • Method 1: By mouth
  • I’m going to get this one out of the way because it is the most common but also the least adviseable. Its easy, its quick, we’ve all done it…and most of us have ended up with a mouthful of aquarium water in the process at some point. This isn’t the safest method and is why every gas pump you use will have big “do not siphon by mouth” warnings on them. In this method, the higher end (End A for the rest of this blog and the left side of the graphic above) is put into the aquarium and the lower end (End B and the right side of the graphic) is held below the level of End A. You would then put your mouth over End B, suck on it like a straw under the water starts flowing and release it into the bucket before getting a mouthful of it. There is a risk of getting anything left in the tube in your mouth as well as anything in your aquarium water; DO NOT use this method if you have medicated or used any other chemicals in your aquarium!!


  • Method 2: SubmersionSubmersion
  • In this method, we start off with the air removed from the tube by completely submerging the tube in the aquarium first. Once all the air is out, plug both ends with your hand or a finger and remove End B from the water. Once End B is lower than End A and over your second container, let go of both ends. The tube would then empty into the bucket and start the siphon from the aquarium. Alternatively, you can also fill the tube with water first if you can’t fit it safely into the aquarium to submerge it; just hold the ends closed until you have them in place. This method tends to work better with slightly larger tubing (0.5” diameter or more) rather than thin airline tubing like those used for acclimation.



  • Method 3: Power-startingPower starting
  • Instead of drawing the air out through End B, this method forces it out from End A. If you have a powerhead or pump in the aquarium or a powerful output into the tank, you can use that to start the siphon. Hold End A up to this source and seal it as tightly as possibly with your hand until the water is coming out of the other end of the tubing. When you remove End A then (and get it in the water immediately without allowing any air in, if it is above the surface), you should have a good siphon going. Again, this tends to be more effective with larger-diameter tubing than the thin stuff. Some companies also make gravel vacuums that fasten directly to a faucet and use a similar method of starting the siphon “automatically”.


  • Method 4: Siphon “Starters”


  • Some gravel vacuums have starter bulbs built into them for this but if yours doesn’t, you can create your own. The built-in starter bulbs would act like your mouth and lungs in Method 1 by sucking the air out of the tube to start the siphon. For thin-diameter tubing like the airline tubing used for acclimation, you can use a syringe plunger like the ones that come with most test kits as a starter. With End A in the aquarium, put the tip of the depressed plunger into End B, then draw out the stopper. This sucks the air out of the tube and starts the siphon for you. While this one isn’t as effective for the bigger diameter tubing, you can try larger syringes,  turkey basters, or irrigation bulbs from the health and first aid aisle at the drug store for this purpose.


The Breaking Point

To end your siphon, just take End A out of the water, raise End B higher than End A or allow air to get into the tube and it will be “broken”. Alternatively, if your siphon stops, check to see if any of those things have happened or if something is clogging up your tube. If you do notice that your gravel vacuum keeps getting clogged where the wider vacuum attaches to the more narrow tubing, just tilt it a bit more or tap it lightly and the heavier gravel should fall. If you are using your siphon to acclimate your new livestock, you can tie a loose knot in the end of the tubing or add a small valve to help control the flow once you’ve gotten your siphon started. If you have any questions or problems starting your siphon, or if you have a method that I haven’t mentioned, let us know!

The Mantis Shrimp: Deadly Punch Provides Inspiration for Science

Peacock Mantis Shrimp

The Mantis Shrimp, fabled ocean warrior and legend of internet Marine Biology humor (Thanks to The Oatmeal, and zefrank1) is the inspiration for research of new composite materials.  There are many applications for high performance impact resistant composite materials, and scientists and engineers are always looking for ways to make materials stronger, lighter and more versatile.  There is particular interest from the military and industry for stronger and lighter materials for armor, aircraft and automotive applications.

Why Study The Mantis Shrimp?

Most Reef Aquarium Keepers are aware of the hunting prowess of the mantis shrimp, and the weapons that they have developed to capture their prey.  There are two main types of Mantis Shrimp, grouped by the form and function of their specialized set of second legs, called raptorial appendages.  The Slasher or Stabber type of Mantis Shrimp have developed a sharp spear that it wields with Ninja like skill, earning it the nickname “Thumb Splitter” from fisherman who find them in their nets.  The Second type of Mantis Shrimp is the Smasher, given its name for the club like weapon that it uses to kill prey and open the hard shells of mollusks, crustaceans and gastropods.  It is the Smasher type of Mantis Shrimp that has scientists and engineers studying its design, looking for insight into designing lighter and stronger composite materials.

Mantis clawReal Life Beauty and the Beast

The Peacock Mantis Shrimp, Odontodactylus scyllarus, (which is actually neither a mantis, nor a shrimp) is a common species of Smasher Mantis Shrimp found in warm waters of the Indo Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Sometimes kept by the more adventurous marine aquarium keeper, this little Stomatopod is an amazing combination of striking beauty, and ruthless hunter.  The Peacock Mantis can fire its smasher club 50 times faster than the blink of a human eye, at the speed of a fired .22 caliber bullet.  The Club fires so fast, and with so much force, that it actually boils the surrounding water in a process called supercavitation.  The resulting strike and shock wave are devastating to their intended prey.  Mantis Shrimp have been known to break glass aquariums.  Chuck Norris punches with a wet noodle compared to the Peacock Mantis Shrimp.  What has researchers so interested is the amazing durability of the Peacock Mantis Shrimps striking club.  The Mantis can strike its club weapon thousands of times, with a striking force more than 1000 times its own weight without breaking.

The Latest Research

In a recently published study “Bio-Inspired Impact-Resistant Composites” in the Journal Acta Biomateriala, a team of researchers led by University of California, Riverside, in collaboration with University of Southern California and Purdue University studied the structure of the Mantis Shrimp’s smashing club.  The team was looking for design elements that could potentially be used to improve industrial composite materials that are used in things like; aircraft, military armor, protective helmets and automotive panels.  What they found in studying the Peacock Mantis Shrimps Club structure was a helicoidal arrangement of mineralized fibers, which made the club incredibly impact resistant and energy absorbing.  They then applied this design architecture into carbon fiber-epoxy composite impact materials, and tested the performance against similar composite materials used in the airline industry. The results showed improvement in the overall material toughness, with real promise for manufacturing in the future.

Mantis 2Future Research

 The Mantis Shrimp research showed so much promise, that the research group has been awarded a 7.5 Million dollar grant from the Department of Defense to continue their research.  Ongoing research will include looking at structural designs of more than 20 organisms, like bird’s beaks, snail shells, antlers of mammals and others.  All of which are made from relatively simple biological materials like Chitin and Keratin, yet show incredible mechanical durability.  You can read more about the team and their research on the UC Riverside website.

Does anyone else have an image in their heads of a military decked out in Peacock Mantis Shrimp armor, driving Mantis Smasher vehicles?  No, well you should, that would be awesome.


Until next blog,


Guppy Love: Hanging with Unattractive Buddies Makes You Look Better!

Guppy varieties

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Melanochromis

A fascinating study at the University of Western Australia has shown that male Guppies (Poecilia reticulata) specifically choose drab-colored “friends” in order to improve their own attractiveness to females. What’s more, the behavior is not instinctive, but rather seems to be learned through experience (via “broken hearts”, I wonder!). This is the first time that any animal has been shown to choose a social group based upon the physical attractiveness of its members.

For Guppies, Appearance is Everything
Female Guppies choose mates based on the brightness of their coloration, with orange being most favored. Researchers presented male Guppies with the choice of 2 groups with which to associate. One group was comprised of a female and numerous drab-colored males, the other a female and attractive males (orange spots covering more than 20% of their bodies).

The test males chose to associate with the drab-colored group. Drab test males were more likely to pay attention to the attractiveness of their male associates. Very attractive male Guppies, it seems, need not worry about such details, as they were “confident” of their abilities to attract a mate regardless of the competition!

Yes, Fish can Learn!
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (V. 280, N. 1756), also confirmed what many aquarists have long suspected – fish can learn and profit from past experiences. Male Guppies raised in isolation from other males exhibited no preferences when given the choice of drab or colorful male associates. Researchers theorize that male Guppies learn to associate with drab companions based on their past mating successes…or failures, as the case may be! Please see the articles linked under “Further Reading” for more on fish intelligence.

Wild guppies

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Per Harald Olsen

Try This at Home
I’ve been able to observe the importance of male coloration in my own aquariums. I have long-established schools of “feeder” (wild type) Guppies in several tanks. Every so often I’ll add a large “fancy” male. Over the next several weeks, that male’s coloration, color patterns and/or fin structure will become very noticeable in the population, despite the fact that there may be 20-40 other males present. Please post your own observations below, thanks.

American Bullfrog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ram-Man

Deceitful Bullfrogs
American Bullfrogs exhibit a unique variation of this breeding strategy. Females select mates based upon the sound of the males’ calls, opting to hone in on those made by the largest males. Small males, who seem to know that they cannot attract a mate with their feeble songs, also listen for large males. Known as “satellite males”, the little fellows position themselves at the edge of a dominant male’s territory…far enough from him so as not to be attacked.

From this location they attempt to latch onto females that are swimming in to consort with the larger male. If successful, the satellite male steers his prize away from the larger male’s territory, in hopes of fertilizing the eggs that she is carrying. Although such trickery seems a bit under-handed, it is a good example of the “brains over brawn” concept!

Further Reading
Fish Intelligence: Experiments You can do at Home

Fish Personalities: an Interesting Study

Top Aquarium & Fish Articles This Month – April 2014

It’s been a great month for Aquarium and Fish Content Across the Internet. Check out some of our favorites below and please feel free to post some of your favorites!

1. 6 Ways to Help Prevent Aquarium Leaks –

We really liked this article – quick and to the point and it addresses one of the most fundamental things you have to think about BEFORE getting your tank up and running. There’s nothing scarier than a leaky aquarium: follow SaltwaterSmarts’ advice and keep that floor dry! On a related note – we have an article on moving your aquarium which discusses some similar items.

2. Aquarium Myths and Misconceptions – That Fish Blog

Our Aquatics and Fish Master Dave Acland is fed up with bad fish advice. From the classic ‘Inch per gallon’ rule to the idea that smaller fish tanks are better for new aquarists – Dave’s here to dispel these classic myths and misconceptions. Take a read.

3. Gravel & Substrate vs. Bare-Bottomed Tanks – That Fish Blog

Lots of great reasons to go with gravel or bare-bottomed tanks – and Marine Biologist Eileen Daub goes through each one of them. Be sure to have a read before your set up your next tank!

4. Top Filters for Goldfish Tanks – That Fish Blog

So, Zoologist Frank Indiviglio has kept lots of Goldfish in his day – OK..maybe thousands. This article runs down what he considers to be the best choices for goldfish tank filtration. Hint – Frank’s a little old school and he LOVES his undergravel filter for these guys. Find out why.

5. NextReef Showcases Use of 3D Printing in the Industry –

Anyone with a reef tank LOVES them some new technology. Reefbuilders discusses how NextReef is looking into using 3D Printers for making customizable sumps and other aquarium pieces and parts. Talk about customizing your system!

Let us know what you think – and please send us any articles you think should be included in the monthly run-down.